Chants of “free college” and “college for all” echoed through Pennsylvania’s State Capitol for the PA Promise rally on Wednesday, March 27.
Over one hundred teachers, students, reporters and others gathered in Harrisburg, PA to help push for affordable higher education.
The staircase was filled with students holding which read: “Affordable College Now,” “Thousands of Dollars in Debt,” “Fund the Future” among others.
“These people who benefitted from having an affordable public higher education to continue to deny these students the same thing,” said Dr. Kenneth Mash, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Facilities or APSCUF. “We support the Pennsylvania Promise and yes we’re for free college.”
According to Vincent Hughes, PA State Senator, in the last 10 years the cost of college has gone up 45 percent, but wages have gone down 7 percent.
Dr. Mash stated that he has dealt with many students who were unable to go one more semester in school because they could not afford it.
Dr. Mash asked the crowd of students, how they felt being the number one state with the most college debt, to which the students replied with booing. His reason for supporting PA Promise since day one was that he worried about this current generation. He felt that this generation was a “forgotten generation.”
“It is time, this is a forgotten generation,” he said. “It is not okay that when this system was created, the Commonwealth paid for two-thirds of the cost of the education and right now the Commonwealth is picking up less than 25 percent of that cost and it’s being passed on to these students.”
Dr. Mash also expressed how important it is that legislators listen to these students and their stories. He spoke about a student he knew who went to West Chester University and worked three jobs to get through college.
“You shouldn’t have to be a superhero to get a college degree,” he said.
Kara Laskowski, a professor at Shippensburg University, explained that she sees how college debt affects her students and distracts them from their education.
She explained that students are missing classes to go work an extra shift and it is heart-wrenching to her that they can’t achieve their best potential.
After they graduate, they cannot purchase a house because of college debt. It is important that they can purchase a house because once they do, they are able to contribute back to the state and to society.
The only student speaker of the day was Vanessa Nonez, a senior graduating from Kutztown University in May. Her major is in special education and she also has two minors in social working case management.
According to Nonez, her major helps her understand the value of education.
“With my concentration in special education, the idea of free appropriate public education is instilled in our curricula,” she said. “We stress the importance of advocating for students to have the same resources.”
Nonez mother is a Haitian immigrant who worked twelve-hour shifts as a nurse and in hospice care to bring in additional income.
“When I think of PA Promise, this idea of college for all, what do I see?” she said. “I see a single parent taking evening classes to support their newborn child. I see the first generation of students who are the first in their family to graduate from a higher institution. I see the formally incarcerated parent taking classes so that they can prove to their child, their past cannot keep them from a better future.”
“Stand with us,”
The rally ended with Senator Hughes’ final speech. He told the audience to speak up and act because that would be the only way to make PA Promise a reality.
Senator Hughes emphasized the importance of being a registered voter, making your voice known and letting the legislators and senators know that because of this, you are in charge.
“Don’t be afraid to remind the legislators and remind the senators that you’re voters too,” he said. “And your vote counts. And your voice matters.”
To learn more about Pennsylvania Promise visit papromise.org or follow Senator Hughes on Facebook @vincent.hughes.7
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